Interview Maithili

MAMI 2019: Achal Mishra’s Maithili feature Gamak Ghar explores the world of documentary and narrative format


Achal Mishra’s directorial debut will be premiered in the India Gold section of the 21st Mumbai Film Festival.

Sahil Bhalla

Is it a documentary? Is it a fictional film? Or is it just a narrative feature pretending to be a documentary? With Achal Mishra’s Gamak Ghar, it is anybody’s guess. Mishra adamantly states that throughout the process Gamak Ghar was “always in a narrative format”.

Mishra’s debut feature, which he directed, wrote and produced, will be premiered in the India Gold section of the 21st edition of the prestigious Mumbai Film Festival (taking place from 17–24 October).

Gamak Ghar, a Maithili-language film, is set in Mishra’s ancestral home in Madhopur village. Madhopur is near Darbhanga in Bihar. Gamak Ghar translates into village house. The story takes place in three phases — in 1998, 2010 and 2019. The film’s title isn’t meant to signify anything, according to Mishra.

The film revolves around family members reconvening in the house — built by Mishra’s grandfather in the 1950s — over festivals, births, deaths and more. There is the constant talk of floods in the region and the reconstruction of the house.

It seems as if everyone is just minding their own business, giving mere updates on their lives, and the viewer doesn’t get close enough to any one of them.

Mishra would like to take Gamak Ghar to other festivals, but at the moment there are no confirmations. Mishra is hoping for a release on one of the OTT platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime at some point in 2020.

In an interview with Cinestaan, Mishra spoke of language not being the central theme of the movie, his cinematic influences, and about how he used aspect ratios to convey different moods of the characters in the film. Excerpts:

Your film is being premiered at the prestigious Mumbai Film Festival in the India Gold section. What do you have to say about this?

It feels unreal. I have been attending MAMI for the last three years, watching and learning from some of the best films from around the world. I couldn’t have imagined my own film playing to such an avid audience, so it’s truly an honour.

Why the decision to make a Maithili-language film? Also, there is a scene where an outsider asks a kid from the household, “Do you know who I am?” Was it intentional to ask that in Hindi? I ask because languages like Bhojpuri and Maithili are being gobbled up by Hindi.

I don’t see it as a Maithili-language film. I was making a film about a real house in a real place, so the characters in the film would talk as they do in real life. That kid is based on me, and as a kid, my Maithili wasn’t very good, so the relatives and everyone else would talk to me in Hindi.

Is the movie an autobiography or experiential-based?

Experiential-based.

The house is one of the central characters in the film. There is a lack of interaction with others in the village and especially other classes. Was this intentionally done?

Yes. I was making a film about my experience and association with the house, and I wanted it to be purely that.

About the ending, what are you trying to show with the house being destroyed for newer construction? A newer foundation. Is this trying to signify something?

I don’t think my approach to filmmaking has anything to do with signifying something through objects, occurrences, or happenings. I’m just trying to create an experience and stay true to it.

Are all the characters in the film actors or non-actors?

Most of them are non-actors, while a few are theatre actors.

At around the 30-minute mark, the aspect ratio changes. From 4:3 to 16:9. Is this trying to signify that fact that along with the time passing, technology has also improved?

Yes, but at the same time, it also helped us compose the shots according to the different moods of the film. In the beginning, it’s all joyous, so composing in 4:3 allowed us to populate the frames with characters most of the time. While in 16:9 and later in 2.35:1, we had more and more empty spaces.

Most of the scenes are still-frames, where the camera doesn't move at all and only the characters do. What was the reason for this?

We wanted the shots to feel like photographs, and watching the film feel like you are flipping through someone’s old family album.

There are some clear cinematic influences in the movie. Ray with the train, Buddhadeb Dasgupta with the tree and the road and Adoor Gopalakrishnan with the house. Did you watch a lot of their films while growing up? Who else are your influences?

Ray definitely, but not Buddhadeb Dasgupta or Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a lot of their cinema. My influences have been the Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Japanese filmmakers Yasujiro Ozu and Hirokazu Kore-eda.

There are repeated references of floods in the movie. Are you trying to give us an insight into the characters or just mentioning it as something that occurs often in the village?

Floods have hit our village countless times in the past two decades. It has become as natural an occurrence as the seasons. I wanted this to be woven into the narrative in some way.

As we know, Maithili cinema has not taken off despite a National award back in 2016. Where and how do you intend to take the film beyond the Mumbai Film Festival?

We will be sending it to more film festivals and will look for an online release next year.

Gamak Ghar was premiered at the 21st Mumbai Film Festival on 18 October 2019. The film will be shown again on 20, 22 and 23 October.

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MAMI Mumbai Film Festival